Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Beautiful Oeuvre of Catherine Deneuve

"Her beauty, then and now, is like a blow to the eyes."
-- Roger Ebert,
   writing about Catherine Deneuve in 2004

Talk about being slow on the uptake, late to the party and lost somewhere in Siberia.

But making up for it in a big way.

Until this past March, despite having heard her referenced as "the most beautiful woman in the world" likely dating back to 1983--around the time The Hunger was released--I had never watched a Catherine Deneuve movie.

Now, just 3 months later, I have seen 25.

I won't deny that, after watching The Umbrellas of Cherbourg--a delightful French musical from 1964 directed by Jacques Demy, which was Deneuve's first starring role--I realized why so many have been captivated by her beauty.

And I wanted to see more of it.

Certainly, extremely attractive women and men have adorned movie screens since they've existed, and we all have our favorites.

Some of mine include Paulette Goddard, Gene Tierney, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jennifer Connelly, Anne Hathaway, Kate Beckinsale and Aishwarya Rai, a Bollywood icon the esteemed Mr. Ebert described as "not only the first but also the second most beautiful woman in the world" in 2004.

Well, with due admiration to all of the above and many others, to this beholder no woman has ever been more attractively beguiling on-screen than Catherine Deneuve.

At her most elegant, she had a face that could have been sculpted by Canova.

But part of what made taking an addictively deep dive into her mostly French filmography--IMDB, All Movie--is that Deneuve, now 70, has never stopped being a movie star, or an icon, even as the exquisiteness of her appearance has aged and softened.

As the TCM bio of Catherine Deneuve says more eloquently than I could:
"By the late 1990s, she was well past the age when most American actresses would be virtually forced into retirement. Fortunately, for Deneuve, the French were more forgiving of women over 30 and she continued working at her usual productive pace. Still beautiful, yet no longer defined by her beauty, Deneuve was finally free to take on roles other than of the fantasy woman."
The 25 movies I watched were from 19 different years, with at least two from the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s. So while my exploration was undeniably prompted by Deneuve's breathtaking beauty--most overt in her earlier films--I truly enjoyed most of the movies I saw from the 21st century, when Catherine was clearly less constricted by the acclamation of her appearance, and consequently more human in the characters she's played.

I didn't catch On My Way in its brief American release earlier this year, so will have to wait until it hits DVD in a few months. She seems to be the primary, above-the-title star in that one, but as with the latest film of hers I watched--2011's Beloved, in which she stars with her real-life daughter Chiara Mastroianni--Deneuve now more frequently appears within ensemble casts and gets less screen-time.

This is rather normal--even the great Meryl Streep plays the lead a lot less than she used to, and other than Helen Mirren and Judi Dench, I can't think of many actresses over 60 who regularly appear on film--but somewhat confuses my guide below, which is meant to recommend Catherine Deneuve movies more than simply movies with Catherine Deneuve in them.

According to IMDB, Deneuve has 119 credits as an actress, almost all in film excepting a Nip/Tuck episode in 2006. Though she has starred in a few English-speaking films, the vast majority have been in her native French.

So there are still a number of pictures I can still try to explore, but I think I've exhausted most of the ones that rates most highly and/or that the Skokie Public Library owns, Netflix streams or Amazon rents for instant viewing.

While I would say less than a third of the 25 "Cinéma de Deneuve" selections are truly first-rate films, almost all were eminently watchable.

In large part, this is because her beauty is just that alluring--especially in her early films but even in the later ones, I noticed a palpable "Michael Jordan on-the-bench effect" that saw me become acutely less engaged whenever Catherine was offscreen--but she has always been a fine actress who has worked with stellar directors and co-stars.

In addition to substantively adding to my intake of French cinema, my gorging on the work of Deneuve also nicely expanded my cinematic vocabulary.

Although I had seen some of their work before, I became more familiar with directors like Luis Buñuel (Belle du Jour, Tristana), Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort, Donkey Skin), François Truffaut (Mississippi Mermaid, The Last Metro), Roman Polanski (Repulsion), Robert Aldrich (Hustle), André Téchiné (My Favorite Season, Les Voleurs (a.k.a. Thieves), The Girl on the Train), François Ozon (8 Women, Potiche) and Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark).

Through Catherine Deneuve, I am now cognizant (or more so) of legendary French actors like Yves Montand, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Michael Piccoli, Gerard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil and Philippe Noiret, the latter only previously familiar to me as an older man in the Italian classics Cinema Paradiso and Il Postino. And while Aldrich's 1975 L.A. film noir pic, Hustle, isn't outstanding, viewing it did provide me with a different perspective on Burt Reynolds.

But just sticking to Deneuve herself, my eyes were opened--and not just fixated.

By bouncing around her filmography without any prior familiarity, not only was I able to appreciate her longevity--there aren't many still active Hollywood or world cinema actors or actresses who have been movie stars for 50 years running; only Robert Duvall (often a supporting actor), Clint Eastwood (now primarily directing) and the Swedish Max von Sydow readily come to mind)--but I enjoyed noticing how her appearance and persona changed over the years.

Two cornerstone films were Truffaut's The Last Metro from 1980, which takes place in Nazi-occupied Paris, and 1992's Indochine, an epic directed by Régis Wargnier that enlightened me about French Indochina before the Vietnam War. Both these roles are considerably meatier than most of her earlier ones, and while still supernaturally gorgeous, there is a steeliness to her character and a stateliness in her elegance that marked her maturation as an actress, and a woman.

Although, thanks largely to the Chicago Film Discussion Meetup group in which I participate, I had previously feasted en masse on the films of a certain star, genre or director, never before had I done so to this extent nor so entirely uninitiated.

It's been a fun and fruitful investigation, well beyond merely looking--over and over--at a pretty face. And darn nice figure too, although typically embodying demure elegance, Deneuve was not nearly the erotic sexpot that may have once been promoted to draw art house audiences; she appears nude--very briefly--in just 3 of the 25 films I watched.

She is also a considerably better actress--and always was--than the porcelain dolls she was most famously made to portray. With more range than one might imagine, she consistently brought wit, wisdom and integrity to her roles. Even with subpar scripts that objectified her, she never appeared to be phoning it in; beyond just her looks, she is always a pleasure to watch. 

While I don't think I need to feel sheepish about appreciating--so long as not lewdly--the appearance of anyone, let alone an iconic actress, blessed with rarefied physical attractiveness (and the dedication obviously required to maintain it), observing the oeuvre of Catherine Deneuve has also enlightened me a bit on flip side of such beauty.

After her initial success in the buoyant-yet-poignant Umbrellas of Cherbourg, in which she shines like the mid-day sun, Deneuve was soon cast by Polanski in Repulsion (1965) and Buñuel in both Belle du Jour (1967) and Tristana (1970).

All three films are now considered classics or close to it, as well as among her most famous work, but in repeatedly embodying cold, remote, troubled and/or virginal young women, Deneuve became known as "the ice maiden." (reference article)

Each of these movies is cinematically stellar and isn't devoid of narrative rationale, but I can't help feel that they--and Polanski in particular--played, and preyed, upon Deneuve as a object of sexual desire to an overly voyeuristic, even misogynistic extent.

To wit, this comes from TCM's capsule on Repulsion:
"Polanski also had specific ideas about the kind of costuming he wanted, specifically as a way of sexualizing this otherwise meek and repressed-looking character. Though he'd originally wanted Deneuve to be completely nude under the nightgown she wears in the film, he settled on putting her in a body stocking. He did persuade her, however, to pose nude for Playboy as a way of promoting the film. Deneuve bitterly regretted doing so. "It was a terrible mistake," she has said. "I'd never do anything like it again.""
This information, and Repulsion itself--though ostensibly a rather divergent horror movie featuring a female protagonist--makes me not so shocked by Polanski's later troubles (in 1977 he was arrested for raping a 13-year-old girl, after which he left the U.S. and has never returned).

I don't think Ms. Deneuve needs me to defend her virtue, but it's not hard to imagine something demeaning about a recurrence of roles--mostly early ones--in which Deneuve plays either a wife or girlfriend who engages in sextracurricular escapades (Belle du Jour, La Vie de Chateau, The April Fools, Manon 70, The Last Metro, Beloved) or a prostitute or otherwise unscrupulous hussy (Hustle, Mississippi Mermaid, La Sauvage).   

(Stated simply as fact, in real-life Deneuve had children by two high-profile romantic partners, French director Roger Vadim and Italian actor Marcelo Mastroianni, to whom she was never married; she was also wed to British photographer David Bailey (the inspiration for Blow-Up) for 7 years.)

Even in the best of her recent starring roles, in the delightful Potiche (2010), she plays a long-subordinated trophy wife who only exerts her intelligence, business savvy and backbone when her husband is forced to abdicate  leadership of the company her father had founded.

Even aside from the characters she's been employed to portray, there are lessons to be learned from Catherine Deneuve about the burdens of beauty that many of us--at least of the male and/or non-goddess persuasion--may scoff at or never consider.

Alternate English title of Le Sauvage
Sure, it may not seem so terrible to be called--or to call someone--"The Most Beautiful Woman in the World," or even a compliment not quite so exalted, but imagine the pressure of trying to live up to or rationalize such praise.

Not only does such acclamation bring considerable lechery, evaluation, comparison and dissenting opinion, but God forbid one gets a zit, puts on a couple pounds or--as Deneuve has, completely still in the public eye, at least in France--matures with age.

Consider this paragraph in a Newsweek cover story from 1968, when Deneuve was just 24, already a huge star in France but raising her American profile considerably with her first Hollywood movie, The April Fools (co-starring Jack Lemmon): 
"Perhaps because she feels her reputation rests on her beauty, Deneuve is particularly insecure and unsure of her looks. "I read in a magazine that I was the most beautiful girl in the world, but I did not put the magazine down and believe it." In moments of doubt she will say: I have very skinny thighs and a very skinny face, but I am not that thin. Or she will lament: "There are so many pretty girls around, I really worry about this. I think 'How long can it last? It can't go on.' In public, she will shift seats in a dimly lit restaurant to conceal a small blemish on her skin."
By the time of this 1973 interview with People magazine, when she was 30, Deneuve had seemingly become a bit more accepting of the adulation, but not all that comfortable with the seeming advantages that accompanied an appearance such as hers. In her words: 
"All the doors automatically open for a beautiful woman. I know it's very fashionable for good-looking ladies to say how hard it is to be beautiful, but that's not true, there are times when it depresses and bothers me to see just how easy things are made for a beautiful woman. I am much more conscious of it now that I'm 30 than I was when I was younger. When I'm in a rush, or when I have a problem, people react differently for me. As I say, the doors open, there seem to be no limits—it's unbelievable. It's really the great injustice in the life of a woman, all this because nature has been kinder to one than to another."
Knowing next-to-nothing but Catherine Deneuve's name until 90 days ago, I have no awareness of her public persona, how she's lived her life or any gossip that may have surrounded her over the years.

But given the number of screen beauties who have suffered or succumbed, perhaps in part due to the pressures that accompanied the demands of glamor and/or the repercussions of faded glory--Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Greta Garbo, Gene Tierney, Rita Hayworth, Jayne Mansfield, Veronica Lake, Jean Seberg, Natalie Wood and Elizabeth Taylor come to mind, though not all are fully congruent--it is especially impressive that Deneuve is still working steadily as she has for over 50 years, and seemingly has aged gracefully both on-screen and off.

Wikipedia does not make for an in depth biography, but along with her extensive filmography, the citing of Deneuve's charitable and political involvement is what's most notable.

The most tragic event in Deneuve's life of which I'm aware--the 1967 death of her sister, Françoise Dorléac, in a single-car accident shortly after the two starred (along with Gene Kelly) in Demy's The Young Girls of Rochefort--served to add poignancy in watching the otherwise average Après Lui from 2007, in which Deneuve plays a mother trying to come to grips with the death of her son in a car accident.

While watching, at times, five Catherine Deneuve movies over a weekend, could be an oh so arduous task, not only was devouring a good portion of her beautiful oeuvre eye-opening and pleasurable, it was rather informative and fascinating in myriad ways.

And "the most iconic European actress walking this planet" doesn't seem to be stepping away from the camera anytime soon. Just since I started writing this article two days ago, it was announced that Deneuve has signed on to star in an as-yet-untitled new film, on the heels of appearing at the Cannes Film Festival with the premiere of another André Téchiné film, In the Name of My Daughter

So it seems I have much to look forward to, and--with your recommendations quite welcome--more at which to look backward.

But based on what I've seen of a really fine body of work--pun intended but true in both entendres--I am happy to provide you with:

SethSaith's Guide to the Films of Catherine Deneuve

(Please note: Below I will use movie titles and years of release to match Catherine Deneuve's filmography on, typically utilizing or also noting English titles, but not exclusively. Her IMDB filmography is another helpful point of reference. Both sites, and Wikipedia, have good movie summaries, so I won't provide much description here.

The movie ratings are mine and based on a @@@@@ scale, similar to AllMovie. I am rating each film based on its overall quality, not its merit as a showcase for Deneuve. Because I factor both aspects into these recommendations, the films are not necessary ranked by rating.)

The Five Best to Behold First

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) - @@@@@
Belle du Jour (1967) - @@@@@
The Last Metro (1980) - @@@@1/2
Indochine (1992) - @@@@1/2
Potiche (2010) - @@@@1/2

Further Your Exploration and Appreciation

The April Fools (1969) - @@@1/2
Hustle (1975) - @@@1/2
(The above two films aren't fantastic, but quite worthwhile for how Deneuve acclimates to Hollywood movies.)
Tristana (1970) - @@@@1/2
Repulsion (1965) - @@@@1/2
The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) - @@@1/2
La Vie de Chateau (A Matter of Resistance) (1965) - @@@@

Mainly Because She's Simply Stunning

Le Sauvage (1975) - @@@1/2
Manon 70 (1968) - @@@ 
Mississippi Mermaid (1969) - @@@1/2 (She bares her breasts in this one, prompting a driver to slam into a tree)
La Chamade (Heartbeat) (1968) - @@@
Donkey Skin (1970) - @@@

Pretty Good Films but She Isn't the Lead Actress

Dancer in the Dark (2000) - @@@@
The Girl on the RER (The Girl on the Train) (2003) - @@@1/2
8 Women (2002) - @@@1/2
A Talking Picture (2003) - @@@1/2

Decent Enough for the Deeply Devoted

My Favorite Season (1993) - @@@1/2
Les Voleurs (Thieves) (1996) - @@@
Après Lui (2007) - @@@
Beloved (2010) - @@1/2

With Apologies to David Bowie, Deneuve's Sex Scene with Susan Sarandon is the Only Real Attraction

The Hunger (1983) - @@

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Stayin' Power: With Fun, Poignant Tribute, Barry Gibb Keeps Brothers' Legacy Alive -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Barry Gibb
w/ opening act Jared & the Mill
United Center, Chicago
May 27, 2014

I loved the Bee Gees before I was old enough to know better.

Only 9 when Saturday Night Fever exploded onto the scene as the biggest cultural phenomenon since, well, Star Wars just a few months earlier, I happily enjoyed the mega-popular soundtrack album as well as the preceding Main Course, which my family bought subsequently.

At the time, I even liked the Bee Gees in the bad Sgt. Pepper's movie, and recall buying "Tragedy" as a 45 single.

I'm pretty certain that by the age of 10, I was also aware of the Bee Gees stellar early canon, including "Words," "New York Mining Disaster 1941," "To Love Somebody" and more.

But between Steve Dahl blowing up records at Comiskey Park--the first I heard of him but I soon became a fan--and the peer-pressuring of junior high, "disco" became something of a dirty word and the Bee Gees fell out of favor. 

To be fair, around the same time, they largely stopped putting out great hit records, and although I never saw the Bee Gees in concert, I also can't recall any time when I passed up a chance.

And even today, given that Barry Gibb's concert Tuesday night at the United Center--one of just six US dates of his Mythology tour--was less than half-full, it seems that the Bee Gees just don't have the stature they deserve.

But with a heavy dose of Bee Gees classics--and yes I long ago came to re-embrace the falsetto-laden Fever-era songs, as well as the early pop gems--plus several songs Barry wrote for others, over 2+ hours of music there wasn't a note I didn't like.

Opening strong with "Jive Talkin,'" "You Should Be Dancing" and "Lonely Days"--though it took awhile for the mix to be properly equalized--Gibb showed that he retains much of his impressive vocal range. 

At 67, he is no longer the cascadingly-coiffed Adonis he once was, and is the sole surviving Gibb brother, despite being the first-born. So the concert was something of a roller coaster--in terms of emotion, not quality--for the fans and seemingly Barry Gibb himself.

Songs like "Stayin' Alive," "Night Fever" and "Nights on Broadway" took us all back to the late 70s with a smile on our faces and a bounce in our butts, and despite a relatively sparse balcony crowd, I heard several "oh, shit, that's another great one" gasps when Gibb went into "To Love Somebody," "How Deep is Your Love," "Run to Me" and other blasts from the past.

But not only were the Bee Gees' glorious harmonies often notably absent despite a large band and trio of backup singers, Barry consistently reminded the crowd how much he missed his brothers.

He spoke of how Andy wanted to be in the Bee Gees but was too young, and performed a touching version of "Our Love (Don't Throw It All Away)," a hit Barry had written for his youngest brother and first to pass.

On other stops of the Mythology tour, Maurice Gibb's daughter Samantha has been on hand to honor her dad with "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?" (clip here), but Barry explained that she was ill and regrettably unable to join him in singing the song at the United Center.

Barry first spoke of Robin in introducing "I've Gotta Get a Message to You," which Barry sang with his own son, Stephen, a guitarist on this tour.

Later, Barry began singing "I Started a Joke" but gave way to Robin's vocals as the latter appeared on a video screen to a great ovation. (clip from Boston show)

Not only did Barry graciously express his appreciation for his brothers, on a few occasions he ceded center stage to others, letting son Stephen sing "Our Time" and later, after dueting with the lovely Beth Cohen on "Islands in the Stream" and "Guilty," he had her take a powerful solo turn on "Woman in Love," written (like "Guilty") for Barbra Streisand.

Gibb also paid tribute to my favorite performer--and seemingly one of his--with a beautiful rendition of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire," (clip) because the Boss had recently covered "Stayin' Alive."

Although Gibb seemed entirely amiable and genuine, and the music was universally sublime, the concert felt a little too much like a scripted Las Vegas production show.

The 28-song setlist was terrifically curated, balanced and paced, so I am not complaining that it replicated Gibb's other tour stops, but I would have valued Barry recalling a Bee Gees visit to Chicago--perhaps in 1975 when they taped an episode of Soundstage--or otherwise recognizing his surroundings.  

I felt he missed a perfect opportunity to do just that when, near the end of the main set, he rolled into "Grease"--a song he wrote for the movie, which was based on a stage musical written and first performed in Chicago, just a few miles from the UC--without saying, well, a word.

These are just small quibbles, but explain why this won't quite rank among the very best concerts I'll see, even just this year.

Nonetheless, I'm extremely happy that I went, and glad I had the opportunity to see an authentic facsimile of the Bee Gees.

Last year in Chicago and this year in Vegas, I had the opportunity to attend the Australian Bee Gees tribute show, but didn't. I'm sure I would have enjoyed myself, but it undoubtedly wouldn't have meant as much as the real thing. Or even 1/3 of the real thing, though to Barry's credit, he was the principal singer, songwriter and producer of the Bee Gees.

For though he has endured great "Tragedy"--which ended his show but preceded a video showing Robin and Maurice singing "Massachusetts"--Barry Gibb is justifiably proud of the great songs he and his brothers created.

While perhaps not as enduring in the public consciousness at it should be, the Bee Gees' oeuvre is one that clearly merits "Stayin' Alive."

And though devoid of any white suits, with Barry Gibb and a crack band at the United Center, Tuesday Night Fever sounded pretty "you should be dancing" sensational.

Here's a clip of "Nights on Broadway" from last night, uploaded to YouTube by pandaspu:

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why Do the Cubs Keep Embarrassing Themselves?

Excepting things that directly involve me, my family and friends--and likely superseding most of those--I can't think of an occurrence that could possibly make me happier than the Cubs winning the World Series.

While there are undoubtedly millions who can honestly claim to be bigger Cubs fans than me--I don't go to or watch all that many games, I rarely know much about many of their players and not only do I not hate the White Sox, I actually like and cheer for them as well--rooting for the Cubs through thick and mostly thin has been ingrained in me since I was a young child, back in the early 70s.

But my belief is that being a good fan--somewhat akin to being a patriot or just a good citizen--does not mean always fawning over your team, and certainly not the organization that runs it.

Especially in regards to a franchise that has not won a World Series in 106 years--I think we can safely include this one--not only is raising questions and offering criticisms just, but seemingly part & parcel with fandom.

And right now I am rather chagrined by the Cubs.

To begin with...

Their on-the-field results aren't just disappointing, they're disgraceful.

To complain about the Cubs perennially losing seems so 20th century, but the first decade of these '00s was probably their best since the first decade of the last '00s. From 2000-2009--perhaps not incidentally before the Ricketts family took ownership, not that the Tribune regime was that wondrous--the Cubs won their division 3 times and had three other seasons of 88, 89 and 83 wins.

Yes, the 2003 choke was crushing (as I recalled here), the 2004 collapse was pitiful--as was the slamming of announcers Chip Caray and Steve Stone by certain players--and the twin 3-and-out NLDS losses in 2007 and 2008 were pretty pathetic, but at least the Cubs were competitive more often than not.

As of today, prior to tonight's game in San Francisco, since the start of the 2010 season, the Cubs have won 292 games and lost 405, for a .418 winning percentage, coming in 5th place each year, where they currently sit at 19-30 for 2014.

Over the same span, I believe only the Houston Astros have been worse, and crosstown rivals the White Sox --the only other 2008 playoff team that has not made the postseason since--have come in 2nd twice and sit there now.

I recognize that since Tom Ricketts took over, the plan has been to rebuild--largely by bolstering a decimated farm system--and this plan has been exacerbated after Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were brought aboard in bold moves after the 2011 season.

The Cubs have some impressive young players in Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija and a good handful of supposedly stellar minor league prospects--Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, C.J. Edwards, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler--hopefully approaching matriculation.

So if things work out as hoped, and the Cubs are competitive next year, really good in 2016 and win it all in 2017, I--and most every Cub fan--will forgive yet another crappy season this year.

But the Cubs haven't played a meaningful game after Memorial Day in 5 years. And it doesn't seem that they--the front office, not the players themselves who can't be blamed for their limitations--are doing anything to remedy this.

Some people--mostly media members who don't have to pay major league prices to watch minor league talent--argue that it makes no sense to bring in decent-but-not-star players who may improve a team's year-to-year fortunes, but not their chances of winning a World Series.

This isn't illogical, but not only have 20 of 30 other teams made the playoffs since the Cubs last did, the White Sox sure seem to be doing a better job of staying competitive--while the fumes of their 2005 title still waft--while hopefully building to the next level.

If nothing else, at least they're fun to watch.

But I wouldn't bother writing this diatribe simply to lambast the Cubs for being bad. Over the past few days have come announcements that have truly left me shaking my head.

Click here to see article and video
Unable to move forward with approved Wrigley Field expansion plans due to pending or possible lawsuits from rooftop owners, the Ricketts' announced their aims for even more substantive  renovations to the historic park.

Per this Tribune article, Tom Ricketts "plans to submit a revised proposal to City Hall that would feature more large electronic signs, additional seats, bigger clubhouses and a relocation of the quaint bullpens from foul territory to a spot under the bleachers by removing bricks and some of the iconic ivy and covering the space with a material that would allow relievers to see onto the field, according to a high-ranking Cubs source."

As with most things, this isn't a black and white issue, but once again the Cubs look petulant and silly.

I love Wrigley Field the way it is. I don't want a jumbo video scoreboard or tons more advertising signage. The quaintness of the stadium is what has brought me to Cubs games year after year, even when the team has stunk.

But the classicist in me has never fully embraced the apartment building rooftops on Waveland and Sheffield becoming corporately-owned and adorned with mammoth bleachers. I agree with the argument that the entities charging patrons to sit across the street and watch games are essentially stealing the Cubs' product. It'd be like people bringing sling chairs to my patio to watch the HBO I pay for (except that I don't currently subscribe to it).

So while I would prefer Wrigley to be structurally-enhanced but not substantially altered, I understand the Ricketts' desire for--and even right to--greater revenues which they say will help them field a better team.

But here's the thing, or a few of them: In 2004, when the Cubs were owned by the Tribune Corporation, the team signed a 20-year revenue-sharing agreement with the rooftop owners. This fine article by David Kaplan on provides much more detail than I will here (also see this recent follow up), but essentially the Cubs collect 17% of Gross Revenues from the rooftop owners while agreeing not to block their views (note: this is a simplification, not legal fact).

A rendering of proposed changes to Wrigley Field, released by the Cubs
And the Ricketts family bought the team knowing full well what legal agreements and restrictions were in place. 

So it seems that rather than kick and scream until he gets his way, Tom Ricketts will have to come to a new agreement with the rooftop owners. If it would help the Cubs win the World Series, I would readily accept a moderately-sized electronic scoreboard in back of the left-field bleachers that doesn't block rooftop views (or reimburses lost revenues), expanded bleachers, larger clubhouses under left field, a couple prominent advertising signs and a nearby Cubs-owned hotel.

I'm not looking it all up again, but I think the Cubs have approval from the Chicago City Council for all of this.

And with due respect to the investment your family has in a lousy baseball team, Mr. Ricketts, please leave it there. Leave the bullpens where they are, and don't muck up Wrigley with advertising any more than you have to. Especially as it's the one good thing about the franchise about this point.

Click here for article
Finally, for now...

Signing the disgraced and self-serving Manny Ramirez to be a player-coach with the AAA just seems stupid. Or worse.

Manny Ramirez was a great hitter for many years in the major leagues. I don't doubt he could impart something valuable about hitting, and even life, to some of the Cubs' prime prospects.

But he shouldn't be enlisted to.

In 2009 and again in 2011, Manny-being-Manny was suspended for violating MLB's drug policy.

He served his suspensions and is said by some to no longer be the complete tool he appeared to be throughout his career. (Anyone reading this likely knows what I'm referencing, even without citing any specific instances.)

I still consider him a cheat and don't think he should've been hired by the Cubs. Especially as he's angling for a chance to return to the majors and having been told he won't have that chance with the Cubs, will instantly leave behind his coaching duties if any other team offers him a big league deal.

But what annoys me more is that this deal actually makes me feel sorry for Sammy Sosa.

Yes, I believe Sammy used steroids that helped him hit prodigious homers in record numbers. But however sheepishly I must admit it, I buoyantly cheered for him through those glory years, and the Cubs paid him tons of money.

Also, it should be noted, he never flunked a PED test that has been made public.

Yet when the Cubs recently had a celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of Wrigley, with star players of the past saluted on-the-field, Sammy Sosa wasn't invited.

I felt that was hypocritical and a bit petty, but I wasn't all that bothered by it, as I think Sammy did cheat.

But at least he cheated FOR THE CUBS. While on their payroll, with many in the clubhouse and front office undoubtedly aware that Sammy didn't blow up like Popeye by eating spinach.

It is still written in the record books that Sammy Sosa hit 609 regular-season major league home runs, including 541 for the Cubs, leading them to 2 playoff appearances. 

Meanwhile in the 2008 National League Division Series, while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Manny Ramirez hit .500 with 2 home runs to help sweep the Cubs in 3 games.

I'm not saying either cheat should be employed, or even championed, by the Cubs. But it makes no sense that they shun Sammy and then hire Manny.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Another Frank Lloyd Wright Tour -- of Chicago's Emil Bach House -- and a Guide

(Note: Links connect with official tour information, unless noted. Also view Wikipedia's sortable list of Frank Lloyd Wright works and an online guide to Public Wright Sites.)

Yesterday I visited the Emil Bach House, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home that has stood at 7415 N. Sheridan Road in Chicago since 1915, but has been open for public tours for just the past 2 weeks. (The home is now a B&B.)

This was the third FLW tour I've taken in 2014 and about the thirtieth in my lifetime. I've also seen the exterior of nearly 100 other Wright creations. (According to Wikipedia, Wright completed 532 homes and buildings, though some have been demolished and a handful of his designs have been built posthumously.)

But for the first 20 years of my life, despite living within an hour of dozens of Wright sites, I never explored any, if I even knew who he was. And even in living in Los Angeles in the early '90s, I didn't even ever drive past, let alone tour, some of his famed California homes.

It was only after I returned to Skokie in early 1993 that I took a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park and photographed the exterior of several nearby homes along Forest Avenue, as well as throughout Oak Park, River Forest and beyond. (Oak Park Wright Map; Guided Walking Tour)

So while I'll post the bulk of my Bach house photos below--as well as pictures of 9 other Wright homes I shot yesterday--I'll precede them by citing some other tourable or notable structures by America's most famous architect that may be Wright in your backyard. (This isn't comprehensive and focuses mainly on sites I've visited. Homes are typically named in perpetuity for Wright's original client.)

Chicago area

Oak Park is the obvious starting point. Besides the Home & Studio and Forest Ave. cited above, Unity Temple is glorious and offers tours. (See this recent post.)

It isn't tourable, but the early William Winslow House (1894) in River Forest is one of my favorites. (Wikipedia)

Robie House in Hyde Park is widely considered one of Wright's greatest masterpieces. (Photos within this blog post.)

Charnley-Persky House in Chicago, dating from 1892, is credited to Wright's mentor, Louis Sullivan, but some of the design is his.

Rookery Building Lobby, downtown Chicago.

North Shore along and near Sheridan Road offers a good cluster of Wright homes (no interior tours), including the Ravine Bluffs Development (Wikipedia) and other homes in Glencoe, the Ward Willits House in Highland Park--the first example of Prairie Style architecture--and the Hiram Baldwin House in Kenilworth. (Photos below)

Riverside also has several homes, including the Avery Coonley House, plus the Coonley Playhouse, for which Wright designed his most famous art glass windows. No tours that I know of.


B. Harley Bradley House, Kankakee, IL. Only recently open for tours and next to the Warren Hickox house, also by Wright. (See photos in this post.) 

Dana-Thomas House, Springfield, IL. One of Wright's greatest homes and a terrific tour. Any trip to Illinois' state capital should include a visit.

S.C. Johnson Wax Building and Wingspread, Racine, WI. The research building at S.C. Johnson's headquarters should make a great tour even better.

Unitarian Meeting House, Madison, WI. Near Wright's hometown of Spring Green, Madison has several homes he designed--including the "Airplane House"--but I don't know of any tours.

Monona Terrace, Madison, WI. Wright initially proposed a design for a convention center in 1938; it was built in 1997, 38 years after his death.

Taliesin and Hillside Studio, Spring Green, WI. This was Wright's home after he left Oak Park in scandal in 1909 with a mistress, who sadly was killed in a fire that destroyed the initial house. 

Annunciation Church, Wauwatosa, WI (near Milwaukee)

Meyer May House, Grand Rapids, WI. A magnificent house with great art glass windows and one of the best of all FLW home tours I've taken, with Free Admission to boot.  

Historic Park Inn Hotel and Stockman House, Mason City, IA. I stayed at the hotel last year; its restoration is astonishing. (See more photos in this post.)

John Christian House (Samara), West Lafayette, IN. I haven't been here, but supposedly a good example of late Wright (1954) with tours given by the home's longtime owner. 

Westcott House, Springfield, OH. I should have visited on a recent road trip to Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, but didn't know about it until too late.

Elsewhere in the U.S.

Fallingwater, Mill Run, OH. Perhaps Wright's most famous residential masterpiece is about 90 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh. The nearby  Kentuck Knob in Dunbar, PA, is also worthwhile if not nearly as resplendent.

Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY. A great art museum--though not NYC's best--in a building that itself is a true masterpiece.

Martin House, Buffalo, NY. One of his greatest homes; I haven't yet been here.

Florida Southern College, Lakeland, FL. I haven't been here either.

Price Tower, Bartlesville, OK. I have however been to Bartlesville and whined my way into a tour even though I was too late.

Taliesin West, Scottsdale, AZ. Wright last home and also a school of architecture.

Arizona Biltmore Hotel, Phoenix, AZ. I've neither seen nor stayed here. 

Los Angeles. The two wondrous homes I've toured--Hollyhock House and the Ennis House--seem to either be under restoration or no longer offer tours. But there are several homes in the area (see Wikipedia list linked at top) and LA Tours seems to give tours of several exteriors, though not inexpensively. The Anderton Court Shops (Wikipedia) on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills is both easy to see and miss.
Xanadu Gallery, (originally V.C. Morris Gift Shop), San Francisco, CA. Pretty nifty; something of a mini-Guggenheim.

Hopefully the above can be a good starting point. Depending on where you live, other public Wright sites may be much more accessible and with the Bach and Bradley house as examples, it seems more formerly private homes are opening to the public.

With the Memorial Day weekend upon us, for those looking for a Wright road trip from the Chicago area, I'd suggest Johnson Wax in Racine for a brief day trip, the Meyer May House in Grand Rapids or Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, IL for trips under 4 hours of driving each way and the Park Inn and Stockman House in Mason City, IA for something a bit longer. Be sure to check open hours and note that the sites mentioned above have varying policies on interior photography.

OK, now I'm back to Bach. Photos of the Emil Bach House are below, followed by others from north suburban Chicago. You may need to click under the page break to see them. (All photos by Seth Arkin.)


The next 5 photos are from the Ravine Bluffs Development in Glencoe, and the subsequent 2 are also in Glencoe.


Hiram Baldwin House, Kenilworth
Ward Willits House, Highland Park

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

With Many Charms, 'The White Snake' Enchants but Doesn't Quite Entrance -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The White Snake
written and directed by Mary Zimmerman
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru June 8

I admired most everything about The White Snake, which Mary Zimmerman wrote based on a classic Chinese fable and directs at the Goodman Theatre.

And for the most part, I enjoyed it.

But I can't say I completely loved it.

The staging and scenery by Zimmerman and her longtime set designer Daniel Ostling is highly imaginative.

The costuming by Mara Blumenfeld is resplendent.

The Asian tonality of the play itself, and the accompanying live music, is appreciably different than most dramatic works I see.

The story line and themes--revolving around a White Snake who transforms into a woman (Amy Kim Waschke), her friend the Green Snake who likewise humanizes (Tanya Thai McBride), a man named Xu Xian (Jon Norman Schneider) who the white snake comes to love and wants to stay with, and a Buddhist priest Fa Hai (Matt DeCaro) who insists the relationship is unnatural and forbidden--have much current resonance, yet an appealing agelessness.

And the acting, especially by the four main cast members cited above, is uniformly excellent.

Yet while I appreciate Zimmerman's wondrous artistry and aesthetic, I can't say The White Snake consistently engaged me over its 100 minutes.

And though I genuinely appreciate the Goodman Theatre introducing me to different theatrical forms during any subscription season, I can't say I liked this unique piece more than Rebecca Gilman's first-rate drama, Luna Gale, earlier this season, or as much as The Jungle Book musical Zimmerman helmed at Goodman last season.

I certainly expect, and respect, that others will like The White Snake a good bit more than me. The novelty and beauty of the work, and all involved, is impressive and my @@@1/2 reflects a night of theater I liked considerably more than I didn't.

But other than Mary Zimmerman devotees--and through her 20-year association with Goodman I expect she's developed many--and those distinctly interested in theater that ventures beyond the traditional, I don't know that I would highly recommend The White Snake.

For while it tells a nice tale in a rather atypical, non-Western way--though I noted how the romantic storyline is thematically similar to that of the classic musical Brigadoon, next up at Goodman--at the end of the day, The White Snake just didn't have all that much bite.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Photo Synthesis: Recent Shots (by Seth) of Fighter Jets, Pretty Flowers, Funny Dogs, Hot Doug's, Wright Angles, Sox, Cubs and Amorous Swans

Chanute Air Museum: 

Chicago Botanic Garden (early May):

B. Harley Bradley House and Warren Hickox House, by Frank Lloyd Wright, Kankakee, IL:

A Boxer and a Bulldog:

A Visit to Hot Doug's:

Photo Credit: Ken

Sox vs. Cubs at U.S. Cellular Field, May 7, 2014:

All photos by Seth Arkin, except where noted. Please do not repost without request and attribution. Thank you.